Spending 45 years in any job would take its toll on a person. However, for some, 45 years feels like nothing when you enjoy what you do.
That is the case for Neil Heshmat, a 71-year old waiter, who has been working at the same restaurant since 1976.
Originally from Egypt, he arrived in England in 1975 and got his first job at Oslo Court, Regents Street a year later.
He has now been named the ‘UK’s most popular waiter’ by Superb Experience. They crunched millions of online reviews to find the most celebrated waiter in the UK and Neil came out on top.
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Speaking to MyLondon, Neil said that he came to London from Egypt after having a very privileged upbringing, but fled to avoid military service.
“My father was King Farouk’s secretary,” he said. “As children, we had servants, everything we ever wanted.
“I fled Cairo because I didn’t want to do military service and I wanted a different life. When I left, I couldn’t speak very good English, but I said to myself, ‘Neil you have to be independent’.
“Members of my family then wanted me to return because they said I was bringing shame on them.
“They say, if you work in a restaurant, you are a servant. You have shamed our name.
” Many years ago, they even rang Scotland Yard and had me arrested to try and bring me back. My mother, who remarried after my father died, had to intervene and get me released.”
It was this independence that led Neil to Oslo Court. Located near Regents Park, Neil has been the main attraction.
One reviewer said: “He is one of the main reasons why many people keep coming back here. Ask any of the staff and they’ll tell you that callers will often make sure he’s working before confirming a booking – but it’s almost a sure bet.”
“When I have a day off, I’ll rest but I’m eager to get back to work,” Neil added.
He describes how when he first turned up at Oslo Court, his bosses hired him straight away.
“They said ‘we like your attitude and we like your appearance, we’ll hire you’,” he said. “Here, I am more than a servant.
“I am like PR and front of house for the restaurant. I play an important role here and we are like a family. I am so happy.”
The customers love Neil and Neil loves the customers. Maybe this is what has helped 45 years pass and he is still his happy self.
‘I’ll work here until my health fails’
He attributes his longevity to his fantastic people skills and the desire to make others happy.
“Even if I won the lottery today, I wouldn’t leave,” he said. “I love the people.
“I will work here until my health fails. It’s crazy, I know, but, on my day off, I wish it goes very quickly so I can come back to work again.
“Here, for once, I am independent, I am part of something good.”
It is this attitude that has seen reviewers leave comments describing his enthusiasm when he’s reading out the dessert list. He’s passionate about the items and displays attentiveness when dealing with customers.
They can appreciate when someone is passionate about their work and that is Neil.
Even when it comes to dealing with angry or unhappy customers, Neil won’t be deterred from providing a great service.
He said: “Who can be angry when I arrive with a tray of beautiful cakes?
“People soon smile when they get cake. If people are aggressive or rude to me I never take it to heart, I take it with an open mind and a smile. I never grumble. I give people love but also it helps that I am giving people cake.”
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Neil has served his fair share of people, celebrities like David Walliams and the late Barbara Windsor, to serving different generations of families.
However, Neil treats everyone the same because to him, he looks after the customers “as if they’re his own family”.
Even for Neil’s high standards, he’s had his share of mishaps.
“One day, 30 years ago, I was flambéing a crepe suzette in front of a table and I set fire to the dining room,” he said. “We have such low ceilings here it is too much of a risk to do it any more as there is so much that can catch fire, we stopped doing it after that day!
“My boss, Mr Sanchez, is such a wonderful man he didn’t shout or scream, we look after each other like a family.”
For Neil, being a waiter is something he has wanted to do since a teenager and for him, he is fulfilling a purpose and promise to himself.
“I want nothing else, I am happy doing what I do. I have staff and owners who have been loyal to me and are like family. When people experience my desserts, I want them to feel the love,” he said.
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